Ann Arbor Taxicab Board Grants Appeal

Board reviews appeals process; grants license for taxicab driver; hears ongoing complaints about limousines violating city ordinance

Ann Arbor city taxicab board meeting (Jan. 24, 2013): The taxicab board’s agenda included two main items: (1) an appeal from a driver who’d been denied a taxicab license when he applied last year; and (2) scheduling of future meetings.

Taxi stand sign on State Street in front of the Michigan Union.

Taxi stand sign on State Street in front of the Michigan Union. From the city’s taxicab ordinance: “Only licensed taxicabs are permitted to park on the taxicab stand.”

The driver’s application had been denied by the city based on the fact that he currently has 7 points on his license – stemming from a right-on-red violation and a speeding violation. The city’s ordinance stipulates that a license to operate a taxicab doesn’t have to be granted if an applicant has more than 6 points on their license. The board quizzed the prospective driver about past traffic infractions and his intentions for future employment, before deciding to grant his appeal.

The outcome of the board’s discussion on meeting time led to a decision to fix its regular meeting time for the fourth Thursday of the month at 5:30 p.m. That’s a decision that applies to the next six months. Before deciding to commit to that schedule, the board weighed the fact that its newest member – Eric Sturgis, whose appointment had been confirmed by the city council just two days earlier – had applied for appointment with the understanding that the regular meeting time was 8 a.m. Sturgis wasn’t able to attend the Jan. 24 meeting.

During public commentary, the board heard from representatives of taxicab companies who complained about limousines that operate as taxicabs – which appears to be an ongoing problem. Under the city’s ordinance, it’s not possible for a vehicle to be licensed as a limousine under the state’s rules and simultaneously operate as a taxicab. The board heard the specific complaint that limousine companies violate the “top light” rule, which prohibits “for hire” lights on the top of vehicles – unless they are licensed as taxicabs.

At the meeting, the board’s city council representative, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), responded to the complaints by indicating that the board is very aware of the issue. He added that the city’s lobbyist is working on that issue with the state legislature.

The responsibility of the city’s taxicab board is “to enforce the taxicab ordinance, hear appeals of those who are aggrieved by any decision made by the administrator and adopt regulations to facilitate the administration of the taxicab ordinance.”

License Denial: Appeal

Randall Grenham came before the board to appeal a decision that had been made administratively to deny his application for a taxicab license in the city of Ann Arbor. By way of background, a basic requirement for obtaining a taxicab license is to have a chauffeur’s endorsement on a standard driver’s license. [.pdf of city of Ann Arbor taxicab ordinance]

Beyond that, an application must include criminal history, which can be obtained through the Michigan State Police Internet Criminal History Access Tool (ICHAT). An applicant for a taxicab license must also provide a copy of their driving record from the Michigan Dept. of State Record Lookup Unit. [.pdf of taxicab application instructions and appeal process]

Under the city’s taxicab ordinance, licenses are supposed to be issued to applicants with an acceptable driving record, and that’s defined in part as a record showing no more than 6 points on their driver’s license:

7:155. ­ Taxicab driver’s license
(2) Issuance of taxicab driver’s license. A taxicab driver’s license will be issued by the administrator after the following conditions are met:

(j) The applicant has an acceptable driving record. An acceptable driving record is defined as:
i. A driving record on which there are no more than 6 points displayed at any given point in time.
ii. A driving record on which the average number of points displayed over the most recent 3-­year period is no more than 7. For purposes of this requirement, the average is calculated as the total points reported on the official driving record during the last 3 years divided by 3. An applicant who cannot meet this requirement shall not be issued either a full or a temporary license until the 3­-year average of points falls to 7 points or below.

It was the 6-point requirement on which Grenham’s application foundered.

Ann Arbor police department officer Jamie Adkins presented to the board the background of the denied application. [One of the non-voting members of the taxicab board is the chief of police or the chief's designee.] The application was made on Dec. 3, 2012, she said. The SOS records show 7 points currently on Grenham’s driver’s license. Three of the 7 points stemmed from a failure to obey a traffic control device in September 2011. The remaining points stemmed from a speeding violation – 48 mph in a 30-mph zone – in February 2012.

By city ordinance, Adkins noted an application from someone with more than 6 points on their driver’s license is not granted.

Stephen Kunselman, who chaired the meeting, asked when the points would expire. Adkins explained that points persist for three years. So the 3 points from September 2011 would not expire until September 2014. Kunselman asked if there were any criteria the board was supposed to use for deciding the appeal. Adkins indicated that the appeals process was simply that it be reviewed by the board.

Tom Crawford, the city’s chief financial officer – who sits as a non-voting member on the taxicab board – noted that when the ordinance was most recently revised, the goal was to implement a clear standard for licensing. The basis of the appeal, he said, would need to be in the clear interest of the public. He noted that the exact ordinance language on appeals was near the end of the ordinance:

7:170. ­ Appeals.
Any person aggrieved by the decision of the Administrator to deny, suspend, or revoke a taxicab company, vehicle or taxicab driver’s license may appeal that decision to the Taxicab Board. The Taxicab Board shall consider appeals according to due process procedures adopted by the Board. The Taxicab Board may deviate from the strict requirements of this chapter if justice so requires. In making its decision, the Taxicab Board may consider the following criteria:
(1) The seriousness of an offense, if that is a basis for the denial, suspension, or revocation.
(2) The length of time before points will be removed from the driver’s driving record, if that is a basis for the denial, suspension or revocation.
(3) Any matter the Board reasonably finds necessary to insure the health, safety, and welfare of passengers and the general public

Board members then quizzed Grenham about his driving history. Responding to their questions, he said that his driver’s license had never been suspended. He’s previously driven for “Yellow Cab” [SelectRide] for three and a half years, up through February 2012. Grenham said it was not the points that had led him not to be driving for that company. He’d been driving for SelectRide’s limousine service. He indicated that re-applying for his taxicab license was allowing him to regain focus. He told the board that he’d attended the meeting when the taxicab board had approved a meter rate hike [subsequently approved by the city council at its May 16, 2011 meeting] and he’d thought that SelectRide would continue with taxis.

Kunselman questioned whether Yellow had taxicabs – and was informed that the company has 10 licenses.

Jan. 24, 2013 meeting of the city of Ann Arbor taxicab board.

The Jan. 24, 2013 meeting of the city of Ann Arbor taxicab board, held in the city council workroom at city hall.

Responding to additional questions from board members, Grenham explained that the failure to obey a traffic control device stemmed specifically from violating a no-right-on-red posting. Asked about his driving record before the two incidents that were currently reflected in points on his driver’s license, Grenham told the board that he’d had a speeding ticket in 2009. He said he’d had moving violations before.

Crawford asked Grenham if Yellow had indicated they’d be willing to hire him, if his license were to be granted. Grenham explained that while he’d previously driven for Yellow, he was now hoping to drive for Blue Cab. Grenham indicated that Blue Cab had expressed a willingness to hire him.

Board member Michael Benson noted that the complete driving record that Grenham had provided to the board indicated some kind of infraction each year for the last five or six years. “Can you speak to that at all?” Benson asked. Grenham thought some of it was related to the type of car he was driving. His own personal vehicle, he explained, is a Crown Vic. If he’s driving a hybrid, which is very quiet, he doesn’t get the same feeling of speed on the road. Benson confirmed that except for the 6-point issue, Grenham met the criteria for a license.

Kunselman tried to recall how the board had handled a previous appeal. He thought the board had imposed some kind of conditional requirement. Kunselman indicated a willingness to grant the appeal, reasoning that Grenham had previously worked as a taxicab driver and taxicab companies seemed to know him. Regarding the infractions, he found Grenham’s explanation to be valid, saying that the same sort of thing had happened to him. So Kunselman didn’t want to be punitive. But to meet its responsibility, Kunselman felt that the board needed to impose a requirement that if Grenham were to receive another moving violation, then his taxicab license should be revoked.

Kunselman read aloud the criteria for evaluating an appeal, and concluded that he was comfortable with granting the appeal. Benson agreed with Kunselman that he’d had the same kind of thing happen to him with respect to traffic violations – but at the same time, Benson wondered what that meant in the future. Because the taxicab licenses are renewed each year, he was concerned about what would happen in May 31, 2013, when the license would need to be renewed. The 7 points would still be on the license. Was the board rendering the 6-point threshold essentially arbitrary – and would they be willing to go from 7 points to 8 points?

Adkins indicated that on May 31, the license would expire and Grenham would need to re-apply. Crawford indicated that for a previous appeal, the board had made it the driver’s responsibility to inform the board if another moving violation was committed. [That's a responsibility that is reflected in the ordinance language: "A driver who has more than 6 points on his or her driving record and who is charged with another moving violation shall report the fact of the new charge to the Administrator within 10 business days after the new charge was issued."]

Benson was satisfied that for Grenham’s situation, he was willing to grant the appeal, and made the motion.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to grant Grenham’s appeal.

Crawford confirmed with the board that it was their desire that if Crawford were notified of another moving violation, he would suspend Grenham’s taxicab license until the board met again. Kunselman’s concluding admonishment to Grenham was: “Drive safe!”

Meeting Schedule

Sarah Singleton, a financial services staffer who is the board’s recording secretary, gave some background on the scheduling issue. She began by saying that at the board’s last meeting, they’d decided to shift the meeting day to every fourth Tuesday, instead of Thursday. That proved to be problematic for the availability of the city council workroom, where the board holds its meetings. And it was important to hold the meeting in the council’s workroom, because it’s on the second floor of the city hall, which is the only floor accessible to the public after 5 p.m. So the suggestion was to shift the day back to Thursday.

Stephen Kunselman asked if newly appointed board member Eric Sturgis had been notified about that day’s meeting. Singleton and CFO Tom Crawford indicated that Sturgis would be able to make meetings on Thursdays at 6 p.m. – but 5:30 p.m. was problematic. According to Singleton, Sturgis had actually applied to the board at a time when the board met at 8 a.m. Kunselman wondered how far into the future the meeting schedule needed to be set. Singleton noted that as a public body, the taxicab board’s schedule needs to be set and posted so that the public understands when the meetings will be held on a consistent basis.

Kunselman wanted to accommodate city staff. Crawford indicated that for him, 6 p.m. wasn’t a problem. But he ventured that for Singleton, it would mean a little “extra duty.” Kunselman was inclined to leave the time at 5:30 p.m. and have Sturgis find a way to attend the meetings. But he entertained additional back-and-forth about the possibility of going back to an early morning time, as it was when Sturgis applied to be appointed to the board.

Outcome: The board voted to establish the meeting time/day for the board for the next six months as the fourth Thursday of the month at 5:30 p.m.

Limousines vs. Taxicabs: Public Commentary

Several representatives from taxicab companies in Ann Arbor attend the board meetings on a regular basis. During public commentary, they raised what appears to be an ongoing complaint: Companies that provide limousine service (for a flat fare or negotiated fare, instead of a metered fare as taxicabs do) are operating in a dual capacity, offering taxicab services. Under the city’s ordinance, one of the prohibitions is the dual function of a limousine as a taxicab:

In addition to other prohibited conduct specified in this chapter, no person shall: …
Operate or permit the operation of a vehicle as a taxicab if a certificate of authority has been issued under the Limousine Transportation Act, MCL 257.1901, et seq. for the vehicle.

Another specific complaint voiced during public commentary is that limousine companies violate the “top light” rule, which disallows any vehicles except for taxicabs to have a light on the roof indicating “for hire”:

In addition to other prohibited conduct specified in this chapter, no person shall: …
Operate a vehicle held out to the public as a “taxicab”, “cab”, or “taxi” by way of advertising, “for hire” lights on the roof of the vehicle, or any other means, without obtaining appropriate licenses under this Chapter.

Jamie Adkins of the AAPD indicated that she was not sure if officers out on the street were completely versed on the question. Subsequent back-and-forth indicated there was awareness of the top-light issue by AAPD. [The situation might have less to do with awareness or willingness to enforce the top-light issue than it does with the fact that some limousines use top-lights that provide phone numbers, not the text "for hire," which might be analyzed as conforming with the top-light ordinance.]

Stephen Kunselman told the taxicab representatives that their concerns are well understood and that it was one of the issues the city’s lobbyist in Lansing was working on with the state legislature.

Present: Stephen Kunselman, Michael Benson, Tom Oldakowski, Tom Crawford (non-voting) and Jamie Adkins (non-voting). Also: Sarah Singleton.

Absent: Eric Sturgis.

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  1. January 29, 2013 at 12:03 pm | permalink

    Reference the cab-stand sign picture: Meanwhile, taxis routinely park for extended periods of time on the bike lane in front of Hill Auditorium (and resent being criticized).

  2. By Rod Johnson
    January 29, 2013 at 3:35 pm | permalink

    I’m not sure what the city’s lobbyist has to do with the limousine issue. The limo companies either are or aren’t in violation of the ordinance, right? Is there some issue with what taxicab boards are able to regulate per the state?

    Also, the first story *seems* to be a case in which the licensing ordinance was clearly violated, and the driver’s record indicated an ongoing problem, but his appeal was granted on the basis of… what? “I don’t get the same feeling of speed on the road” doesn’t seem like much of an excuse. The ordinance says “6 points,” not “6 points give or take a couple.” (Not trying to be punitive here, just struggling to understand the logic.)

  3. January 29, 2013 at 4:52 pm | permalink

    Re: [2] Lobbyist. I think the idea is to encourage a change in the state legislation regulating limos so they can’t have top lights at all.

    RE: [2] Rationale for granting appeal. The wording of the ordinance says that the administrator will grant a license after all the criteria have been met. But it doesn’t say, for example, “No license shall be granted if these criteria are not met.” So by granting the appeal, the board is not deciding to allow for a “violation” of the ordinance. But yours isn’t just a semantic point; it’s one about the rationale for granting the appeal. And I’m understanding your point to be essentially the same issue that Benson raised: If we go to 7, would we also go to 8? Based on board members’ remarks that the same thing had happened to them (particularly thinking of the right-on-red violation), the implicit rational from the list quoted out in the ordinance is the one about the seriousness of the offense. Their questions about when the points would expire indicated to me that they were applying the criterion that speaks to how long before the points would expire.

  4. By Rod Johnson
    January 29, 2013 at 8:30 pm | permalink

    Right. And it seems like there’s some evidence against the driver, and none for him (except for it happened to us”), so the only principle that applies here is “be lenient.” Which is fine, as long as that’s acknowledged, I guess, but as you note, where do you stop?

    But I’ll stop here–I don’t want to beat up on the guy.

  5. By George Hammond
    January 30, 2013 at 12:22 am | permalink

    a2cents: taxis are *supposed* to park in front of Hill Auditorium. There’s a designated taxicab stand there.

  6. January 30, 2013 at 12:40 am | permalink

    Re: [5] George, I think the nature of the complaint is that the parking is on the bike lane. But if the bike lane and taxi stand are configured so they overlap, then that just invites friction. Google Map’s new 45-degree satellite imagery for Ann Arbor makes it easy to check out what the configuration is from the comfort of your own home: [Google Map image of Hill Auditorium with two taxis parked in front]. That looks to me like it’s a taxi stand (as George says), and it’s configured right on top of a bike lane. I don’t see that a taxicab has an option to use the stand without blocking the bike lane. But a cyclist has the option to claim the whole traffic lane if there’s a taxicab parked there.